The first week in November marks a busy time as COVID-19 cases climb in Connecticut and the nation faces a contentious presidential election.
But health advocates want people to remember that it’s also the first week of open enrollment in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Connecticut residents can enroll or renew plans for coverage in 2021 through Access Health Connecticut, the state’s ACA marketplace. In adopting safety precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of enrollment support will appear in the form of virtual services.
“We know that this year, it was going to be challenging,” said Andrea Ravitz, director of sales and marketing for Access Health. “And the most important thing for our organization is to make sure that everybody is safe, from our consumers to our staffers.”
Nearly 108,000 people enrolled in plans last year, according to a final report released in February.
Experts say enrollment predictions for the coming year will be more difficult to determine given the number of people who have experienced changes in employment and health insurance status throughout the pandemic.
But Ravitz said they are prepared to help returning customers, as well as new ones.
“We need to be understanding that when we’re out there in the community, our message needs to be empathetic,” she said. “We need to make sure that we explain to people that while they’re looking for a job, and this might take a little bit, that this is an option for them and their families.”
The marketplace this year will carry plans offered by ConnectiCare and Anthem. Access Health also helps adults and children determine eligibility for coverage under Connecticut’s Medicaid program, known as Husky Health.
Last year, Access Health held more than 40 enrollment fairs at permanent and pop-up locations across the state that served about 4,700 visitors. People could meet with enrollment specialists and certified brokers in person as they chose plans.
Those in-person services will still be offered this year, but limited to by-appointment-only locations in Groton, Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain, Stamford and Hartford.
Ravitz said Access Health is using virtual services to fill in the gaps caused by the pandemic. Virtual fair appointments include a new co-browsing feature that enables customers to share their computer screens with enrollment specialists in real time.
“We know there’s a lot of individuals who might have some type of challenge when it comes to understanding the process, understanding the website and where to click,” she said.
“If you’re the customer and I’m the [representative], if you give me permission to look at your screen, I’m able to tell you where to click, where to go, what to fill in,” Ravitz said. “I am not able to type anything, but I’m able to guide you through the process.”
Customers can also get help over the phone and through a live online chat. Ravitz said Access Health will be calling current customers ahead of time to help people create web accounts and go over information and documents they may need to enroll in coverage for next year.
Access Health’s community canvassing program has been discontinued because of COVID-19. It began as a pilot program last year to try to reach uninsured residents -- an estimated 207,000 people or about 5.9% of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Ravitz said Access Health is distributing enrollment information through its partnerships with other community service organizations like Foodshare, a regional food bank serving Hartford and Tolland counties.
“Having information there when they’re picking up their food, making sure that we connect with school districts and colleges and flu clinics and testing sites, farmers markets -- all those things are kind of taking the place of us going door-to-door,” Ravitz said. “We’re really meeting people where they are, where the need is.”
Regular open enrollment runs through Dec. 15.
Residents who experience a qualifying life event, which can include losing health coverage through job loss, getting married, having a baby or moving to Connecticut, can qualify for a special enrollment period. It means they can enroll anytime, including after Dec. 15, as long as it is within 60 days from the date of the life event.
For more information and enrollment support services, visit AccessHealthCT.com or call 855-805-4325.